Yearbook Photography Laws: Etiquette vs. Legal Rights

Eiffel Tower Photography Copyrights

Ever find yourself asking if you’re allowed to take pictures somewhere? Fun fact: photographing the Eiffel Tower is legal during the daytime, but at night things get more complicated. Learn what is okay and what’s not in our list of photographer’s rights.

Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days, don’t they?  It’s good to know that we can capture the moments that mean the most to us. But very few of us think about or even know our rights or limitations in being able to do so.

I didn’t either, until I was approached by a store manager for trying to take a picture of my daughter and her friend in front of a notable store’s pink polka dot display in the middle of the mall. The manager was nice but explained that their store carries a very strict “no photography” rule and that I would not be allowed to post the photo that I took anywhere online.

I immediately complied with the manager for a few reasons. First, I didn’t really consider it to be a big deal. It was just a posed photo and I had taken a dozen more that day, so there was no importance to that particular picture. Also, I didn’t want to make more of a scene in front of the kids than had already occurred when the manager came out of the store to approach me. And lastly, I wasn’t familiar with my rights as an amateur photographer.

In order to prevent finding yourself in a similar situation as a yearbook adviser or photographer, read up on your rights to take photographs and publish them. All the information can be used in determining what is acceptable to use in your school’s yearbook.


Not all “no photography” signs are this clear, so always be on the lookout.

The general rule to follow is that if you’re in a public place and you can see it, you can shoot it. So, if you’re at the park or spending the day at the beach, whatever you see is open for photographing. Government property is mostly considered okay, but pictures are prohibited on military bases and inside government buildings. So, taking pictures at the Washington Monument is okay, while taking pictures inside your local courthouse isn’t.

The line blurs a bit when it comes to what is called expected privacy. You’re not allowed to take pictures on public property if there is an expectation of privacy. For example, public restrooms are off-limits from photography, and taking pictures inside someone’s windows even though you’re standing on the sidewalk on public property is obviously unacceptable.

When you’re on private property, the rules are more defined, as the owner of that property can dictate what you are and aren’t able to photograph. If you do not adhere to these rules, you can be cited for trespassing.

You are allowed to take pictures of strangers in public places without their consent, but you are not allowed to sell them without their knowledge or permission. For example, you can’t take a picture of a stranger walking past you on the street and then sell it for profit as an advertisement to Coca Cola. But, when you take a picture of someone at the science fair, it is okay to publish in your yearbook.


Most places like zoos and museums have their photography rules posted directly on their website. But if you’re out on a school trip and there are no signs to be found informing you of the photography regulations, just ask someone who works there. Some places allow and even encourage photography, some places allow photography as long as no flash is used, and some places prohibit any and all photography, whether you have the intention of publishing it or not. In the case of prohibited photography, you can be asked to leave the premises or, in extreme cases, have the authorities called. Save yourself the hassle and simply ask an employee.

When it comes to photographing other people, especially children, even though it’s legal to take their pictures in public, it’s still better –and more polite– to ask first.

At the beginning of the school year, every student should receive a photography waiver that their parents are responsible for filling out, signing, and returning. This waiver should allow parents to allow or forbid their child’s photo from being taken and placed in school publications such as the yearbook. Keep a list of students who have not been granted permission to have their photos taken and keep it with you at all times in order to avoid having to cross-examine the list with a large number of photos later.

The ACLU also recommends carrying this printable pocket guide of photographer’s rights with you in the event that you are approached despite being within your legal rights. Had I known about my rights and had such a document with me when I was approached by that store manager, I could have politely explained that malls are considered an area that’s open to the public, which means that photography is acceptable and I was within my rights to do so.


Educating yourself on what is and isn’t acceptable can save you a world of headaches when creating your yearbook. You’re already using Treering to make the job of designing and publishing your yearbook easier, so following these simple rules will ensure that your time is spent on the fun aspects of yearbook creation, rather than time-consuming hassles.

Still wondering what’s up with the Eiffel Tower, turns out the twinkle lights that come on at night are considered their own art installation and still under copyright. Want the full coq au vin, click ici.

Please note: this is not a legally binding guide. Photographers should always check rules and regulations of all establishments and with parents before taking pictures.

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